Applications can be extremely useful in order to make use of small bits of time here and there. You can just take out your phone and there you go, you can study a language.
Both luckily and unluckily, there are thousands of applications available both for iOs and Android, and many can be quite useful but the sheer amount makes it difficult to find the right ones.
Yet, a few have come ahead of the herd and will keep on popping up everywhere whenever you look for an app to learn a language.
One of those is Duolingo.
After years using it here and there and finally one year of consistent daily work, I just finished bringing all the skills at the highest level for Korean and I am left with a taste of disgust for it.
If I am so disgusted by that app, does it mean it was pointless? Not entirely but there are clear flaws in it and you should know those before getting yourself into it.
But first, a quick disclaimer: this article is based on my experience with the Korean course. Some other courses, such as Norwegian for instance, will have more to offer like exercises to write down the audio, which can be useful for improving listening and writing skills simultaneously.
Some clear mistakes
When I started using the app, I already had an intermediate level in Korean and almost instantly found some clear mistakes, going from translating a word into English but not recognizing the actual first definition of it, to making use of extremely impolite words.
One of the things which kept on bugging me was the use of 그녀는 for “she”. This should literally be translated into “that woman” but is also incredibly impolite and, to put it in simple terms, an expression to never say in Korean (unless you want to start a fight).
Obviously, this might not apply to many languages but, for Korean, it can make the difference between being considered nice and knowledgeable to being viewed as a jerk. The choice should be easy, heh?
Sentences to translate into English would also have one specific way to be translated and in order to pass to the following level, you quickly learn you need to translate in literal terms. This means you will write sentences in unnatural English commonly.
While this may not be that important since you do so willingly, this also creates a specific connection between the target language and English.
This can then cause problems later on, when you want to say a particular sentence, but since the app taught you the Korean from a specific sentence, you might not remember the grammar pattern because you are not thinking in a broken English.
That kind of problem, however, will appear mostly after reaching the middle of the course, when your target language starts becoming better and more natural.
Pointless on its own
Now, this is not a clear flaw from this app alone. Using varied resources is crucial for learning any language.
But what bothered me more and more as time passed by was the feeling that this app was trying to be an allrounder whilst obviously failing.
It tried going into details and more advanced aspects despite not explaining nuances, varieties and other crucial points to learn.
It isn’t a problem per se, but putting an emphasis on that just bothered me to death.
Now, once again, this app may be good for you.
You just have to consider a few things before getting into it:
- Are you using it as a starter for a new language? If yes, it could be good to kick you off. Careful not to use it too long though.
- Are you using it as an intermediate learner? If yes, consider the risks to set mistakes in your grammar patterns notably.
- Do some preemptive research to know more about the language you want to learn on the app. How precise is it? How good are the lessons? How recommended is it?
- What are you using it for? As an extra once in a while? Are you trying to get a long streak?
Finally, a quick note on streaks, forget them. I got caught up quickly because I didn’t want to break it. And now, one year later (or more precisely 362 streak days later), I am regretting ever considering that streak important. I could have spent a whole lot of time on much more useful learning material.